Floating Man

naipaul421x311.gifThere’s a nice article in the Guardian by James Campbell about V.S. Naipaul, the famous Trinidadian Author of Indian descent. Currently living in the English village of Wiltshire, Naipaul has, over time, grown to accept and like his role as an outsider. “I have always seen myself as an outsider in the country,” Naipaul says, “and it’s caused me no pain at all.” It interesting to read of his reaction when entering a shop in India, and his frustration for not being noticed. An Area of Darkness–the first in a trilogy about India, spawned from this initial trip, stresses this dissociation, this innate disgust of his surrounding when visiting, perhaps of seeing himself in every man? He calls himself, “a floating man” in the article, referring to his settling in England and his stance as a person of Indian decent in Trinidad.

Naipaul’s style of writing has always melded the autobiographical with the narrative, and he’s quick to say narrative prose is undergoing a change, the form of the novel is becoming staid and should evolve –anyone can do it and he’s right, it seems there’s constant churning out of novels–but where will the form take us, more Delillo for example, more ideas in the skeletal frame of a novel and less rendering of style?

This sentence taken from Enigma of Arrival seems to justly sum up Naipaul’s distinct merging of backgrounds and the result of these upbringings:

“To see the possibility, the certainty, of ruin, even at the moment of creation: it was my temperament. Those nerves had been given me as a child in Trinidad partly by our family circumstances: the half-ruined or broken-down houses we lived in, our many moves, our general uncertainty. Possibly, too, this mode of feeling went deeper, and was an ancestral inheritance, something that came with the history that had made me: not only India, with its ideas of a world outside men’s control, but also the colonial plantations or estates of Trinidad, to which my impoverished Indian ancestors had been transported in the last century – estates of which this Wiltshire estate, where I now lived, had been the apotheosis.

He speaks of this final passage, arriving at the manor but not the manor one hoped for, in this video interview (resembling a 60’s studio set!) from the Nobel website.

Around the Dial

kinks review Back to Darjeeling, not the city but the “Limited” soundtrack…love the Kinks, always have, though I suppose I got into them late, when “Give The People What They Want” came out–(1983?) over here in the states, I was 13 or 14 and fell in love. Yes, I suppose I was a late Kink’s fan. There are many great songs on that record (Robert Christgau – the great rock critic, formerly from the Village Voice – now NPR – gave the album a “C+ in 1981 – oh well, I guess he wasn’t 14 when he first heard it nor was he likely simultaneously enjoying “Foolin” by Def Leppard…)

I loved – “Around the Dial” (forgive the terrible non-video) Radios of the world are tuning in tonight, Are you on the dial, are you tuned in right?….One of our DJs is missing…. “Art Lover” (I’m not a flasher in a rain coat, I’m not a dirty old man, I’m not gonna snatch you from your mother, I’m an art lover) Destroyer”, and my favorite: “Yo Yo”.…The Kink’s always seem to surpass beyond the simple, yeah, yeahs in rock and turn them kind of melancholy. The yeahs, yeahs in this song are a wonderful afterthought- they seem sung by a gang of disillusioned girls from Manchester…

There are many different people,
Livin’ double lives.
One for the office,
And one that they take home to their wives.
He sits in the armchair, watching channel 4,
With his brains not expected home for an hour or more.
He’s still drifting to and fro, like a yo-yo.

His wife is in the kitchen, fixin’ her old man’s tea
She’s thinking to herself,
“He’s not the man that married me, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.”
They used to laugh together, now he’s never at home.
Now she’s fighting back the tears, she can’t even laugh alone.
She’s just sitting by the telephone, like a yo-yo.

Later, I listened to their earlier music and it never felt dated, even today it doesn’t.

I remember listening to “Sunny Afternoon” many summer evenings while drinking Haffenreffer…

My girlfriends run off with my car,
And gone back to her ma and pa,
Telling tales of drunkenness and cruelty.
Now I’m sitting here,
Sipping at my ice cold beer,
Lazing on a sunny afternoon.

Here’s a short documentary about the discordant brothers – Pete Quaife, the bassist, describes the Davies brothers as, “Jimi Hendrix on that end and Noel Coward on the other end…..”

Why are our early years seemingly so influential as far as music goes? Our ears aren’t so well adjusted…as far as knowing what melody, etc. is in theory but what we hear again and again is remembered forever, “Rubber Soul” is ingrained in my mind forever as I played it six or seven times a day one summer in my father’s apartment, I was about 8, I think…what summer – 1977? The album had been out many years but I suppose my dad had his copy lying around, and I played it relentlessly, still when I hear this album, I feel like I’m seeing an old friend again….”I’m Looking Through You” has to be one of my favorites on the album – it’s such a rousing, rocking song filled with so much energy yet so simple – a strange, cheerful way to warn a lover of betrayal and deception:

Why, tell me why, did you not treat me right?
Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight

And a great song to end it all – The Kinks…..”Apeman” ……brilliant!

Speak, Memory

nabokov at 12I’ve been reading Speak, Memory , Nabokov’s memoir of his childhood in Russia and glimpses of his later years abroad. All biographies in a sense should be like his; a mishmash of the mundane (endless descriptions of a succession of tutors), minute details of daily activities (his tireless endeavor of butterflies in the fields) and then plunk–a paragraph or two of stunning reflections, almost left as a cliffhanger for the reader. It’s like listening to an eccentric uncle you respect and admire who led an exotic life but he might go on a trifle too long about his whimsies or adventures. Just when you begin to nod off, he states something poignant, beautiful and you forgive him instantly.

After the stretch about butterflies: “I confess I don’t believe in time, I like to fold my magic carpet, after use, in such a way as to superimpose one part of the pattern upon another. Let visitors trip. And the highest enjoyment of timelessness–in a landscape selected at random–is when I stand among rare butterflies and their food plants. This is ecstasy, and behind the ecstasy is something else, which is hard to explain. It is a momentary vacuum into which rushes all that I love. A sense of oneness with sun and stone. A thrill of gratitude to whom it may concern–to the genius of human fate or to tender ghosts humoring a lucky mortal.”

In one interesting passage, he relates early on in his life, how astounding his early sense of color was and how he associates letters with colors, “R” is a sooty rag being ripped, “U” is brassy with an olive sheen. Surely this correlates with his lifelong love of Lepidopterology. Nabokov’s son Dmitri writes about his father’s synesthesia on his blog! The name “Nabokov” and “blog”- clearly a misnomer! Much like the autistic savant Daniel Tammett , who also has synesthesia–in his case, visualizing numbers with colors which helps him along in his photographic memory. Tammett had an epileptic seizure at an early age possibly which triggered his autism, he is also a mathematical genius and has an amazingly aptitude for languages–learning Icelandic fluently in a week. Incidentally, Nabokov who was sick much of his youth–Scarlett fever–also went through a spell of having a high aptitude for math and also experienced hallucinations as a child. His mother had synesthesia as well, associating musical notes with colors. Nabokov had no ear for music, it skipped a generation and went to his son (who was an opera singer at one point), he says, amusingly enough in the book, “Music , I regret to say, affects me merely as an arbitrary succession of more or less irritating sounds.” The sentence itself is shocking to some degree as I’ve never really heard anyone who is repelled altogether by all music, indifferent maybe, yes. Nabokov, in itself is hard to pronounce (though the speaker sounds like he’s annunciating the “v” hard merging it into “ffs” like the French apparently do) and I can’t seem to give up my horrible American pronunciation–Nabokov himself could only describe it’s varities of pronunciation so aptly, although the corrected version tends to sound like a tedious square dance one is forced to engage in.

He left Russia at twenty and remained abroad for the rest of his life, never returning home. With exile comes a constant nostalgia one is forever carrying–a burden or a crutch but a relevant crutch as it’s supplied much muse, also a prominent theme often found in books these days exploring the immigrant experience . “The act of vividly recalling a patch of the past is something that I seem to have been performing with the utmost zest all my life,”

Speaking of exile, Salman Rushdie and Orhan Pamuk speak of being in exile and writing about the cities they left behind on the New Yorker’s video series . As the old adage goes: One must distance himself from his subject to write well about it–Nobokav’s does this best and without his extensive exile we would lose much of the haunting passages he’s written.

Susanna Moore

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Susanna Moore is a great writer I’ve recently discovered–her novel, In the Cut, was made into a film by Jane Campion in 2003 with Meg Ryan. It’s a dark movie about a reserved teacher and her erotic relationship with a cop whose investigating a possible serial killer, slightly controversial at the time because Ryan shows a lot of nudity in the film. Moore is keenly apt at portraying transformation, her characters, who appear comfortable in wholesome skins, seem to molt recklessly revealing rough underbellies that had seemingly always been there–almost a necessary seediness for their newer, grittier lives. One wonders if the author’s past as an original playboy bunny at the Hefner clubs has any part of this.

The Big Girls, set in women’s prison follows four characters, focusing mostly on an Andrea Yates type character, who has killed her children and the psychiatrist who treats her. Moore creates a subjective, sensory view of the prison, it like reading the prison diaries of Sylvia Plath if there were such a thing. Moore’s not looking for sympathy from the reader, more like palpable apathy-the killer isn’t vile but mentally ill, broken from an abused childhood–cliché, yes but so skilled in the rendering of the character and her past/present life, one forgives easily. The psychiatrist is equally a mess, with a sporadic, distant childhood, mother dead at an early age, low self esteem, broken marriage, etc .

Moore has a remarkable way of turning the subversive into something ordinary or rather expected-something less repulsive than one thought initially, she shakes your morals and throws them about, leaving one or two behind in the process.

19tt15.jpg One Last Look is an amazing novel, set in India in the mid 19th century; it’s based on the diaries of Emily Eden–a writer and artist traveling with her sister and brother–appointed Governor-General to India at the time. Sure, the Raj is a depleted subject, squeezed to death at this point by Merchant Ivory films or by nostalgic English novelists itching to portray a sliver of that age. But Moore is sly; much of the beginning of the book is Eleanor’s (as she’s called in the novel) and family, guarded disdain of the culture they see around them, their staff, customs, the land etc. Eleanor’s perspective is a sort of feigned acknowledgment of her world, not necessarily good, not necessarily bad, an underhanded nod at the strangeness then slowly we see changes in her outlook. Moore is so skilled and subtle, it’s not a blatant awakening but a steady, cloying rebirth that allows the reader to imbue the character and change perspective along with her. Perhaps I’m partial as I lived in India before so at once I am aware of the odors, colors, people she is describing but if I had never been before, I would be at one repelled and intrigued–a common reaction to a new culture, we are entranced and enthralled one minute, the next utterly repulsed.

Moore is great at bathing scenery and character over you like a light rainfall, you’ve not aware it’s there but soon you’re soaked, seeping in it’s wondrous clarity. Her language is sparse but not terse, there’s nothing flowery here, no flowing abundance of heavy words or cleverness yet each paragraph in its simplicity is of a startlingly weight, a deep thickness to push through. Eleanor begins to comment widely on the insular, supercilious habits of the English, shows alliance with her servants, her sister has gone “native”, smoking hookahs and wrapping herself in silken robes yet her brother remains indifferent, not cruel just weary and dissapointed by his surrounding. Eleanor’s relationship with him hints strongly at incest, which doesn’t seem subversive but more oddly acceptable as their relationship is warm with mutual respect. Eventually the trio is sent out of India, back to England and Lady Eleanor becomes a displaced person, her world neither here nor there.

Bonobos

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Is it my imagination or do bonobos seem to be very popular these days? They’re the chimpanzee’s first cousin–a branch of apes that evolved from the gorilla about 7 million years ago, the other two branches being humans and chimps. Native to the north of the congo, these apes have only really been “discovered” and studied only in the last 100 years.

Their popularity has to do with their good nature, non aggressive behavior and their active sexual life. Watching a documentary of bonobos is a little disconcerting, it’s like watching a “Mr Peepers” skit from SNL, where Chris Kattan jumps frantically from table to chair, spitting out fruit and humping everything in site (though this may exaggerated in a zoo environment, seemingly from boredom, a few have speculated).

 

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Bonobo
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Chimp

 

It’s interesting to compare bonobos to chimpanzees, the bonobos have smaller skulls and less of a brow, although their bodies are slightly smaller, they’re more elongated than chimps and they stand upright fairly often. The bonobo’s eyes seem more expressive and intelligent. and they’re also far less aggressive then chimps and ruled by a matriarchal society. A recent story in the New Yorker has an interesting article about them. Along with a nice photo spread by James Mollison.

In the article there’s a funny anecdote about a man named Yearkes who compares two species he had in captivity, a chimp, called Panzee and Chim, a bonobo. – the chimp Panzee was timid, dumb, and foul-tempered. “Her resentment and anger were readily aroused and she was quick to give them expression with hands and teeth,” Yerkes wrote. Chim (the bononbo) was a joy: equable and eager for new experiences. “Seldom daunted, he treated the mysteries of life as philosophically as any man.” Moreover, he was a “genius.

Some insane experiments were done in the 20s, where human sperm was injected into chimpanzees’ uteruses, needless to say it didn’t work but the result would be a “Humanzee , Chuman, or Manpanzee”, the latter sounds too much like marzipan, I tend to favor “Chuman” it sounds like a Victorian disease. Chumans might evolve like this if we’re lucky.

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Boyfriends

boyfriendsI found this photo recently online and decided this about summed up every creepy boyfriend my friends, sisters, and I have ever had. It’s a summation in two parts; the guy in the background is the quirky, geeky boyfriend–the one you meet at a thrift store or animation festival, the one you think at first, is intriguing and eccentric, full of dry humor and colorful original thoughts. He wears ugly winter hats even in the summer (like the fellow in the photo) and carries random objects around with him like leaky pens, bottles, sandwiches or old musty books he’s reading. He likes to state bizarre ideas out loud; use obscures references and has odd facial tics you find amusing.

I had the perfect archetype of such a boyfriend; when we first met he wore white sport socks pulled up to his knees – this was not the seventies – and small white tennis shorts. He was thin–not quite junkyesque, but still an annoying thinness, his thighs seemingly barely larger then my forearms. His hair was tousled, loose curls falling everywhere; large brown glasses perched over a rather simple, strong face. One friend later said he was a young Mick Jagger, she was right, his lips were full, sensuous even, his face smooth and verging on handsome but he was the typical nerd, his physicality foreign to him–disposable, a body he threw on every day, carelessly draped over his frame as an afterthought.

The night I met him he brought a crystal garden with him-those glass tanks where miniature colored stalagmite grow–we weren’t sure why but it provided a shrewd forewarning of his character to come–unseen quirks that would spring out from nowhere, creep out like slow weeds burrowing out from cement cracks. The terrible habits–peeing in the kitchen sink or arguing with himself–yes himself, the showers he seldom took, the collection of bugs covered in latex he kept in his basement, the photograph of the seventies star taped to his ceiling over his bed. Later after he left that night, my friend said, You’re going to go out with him, Yeah right, I said, and I did of course, it lasted for a few years, a sporadic strange relationship that had no real definition.

The other guy, the guy in the foreground, is the guy who you are at once repelled and attracted to, he’s a creep, you know it but don’t care. And underneath the layer of oil, swarm and polyester there’s that stiff layer of raw sexiness that exudes its terrible odor. He’s the guy in Dazed and Confused, the Linklater film–the older guy that hangs around your high school and dates the younger girls, he’s Eric Roberts, the stalker and eventual killer in Star 80, he’s a boy my sister dated when she was fourteen, an older slick, red neck boy with long, oily black hair, shiny eyes and curled lips who harassed her on the school bus in the wild confines of the Virginia countryside. The guy who does the peace sign with his fingers then out comes the tongue and he wiggles it between his two Fingers. This is the guy with the fingernails that are a little too long, with the smile that hints at a surplus of hidden tooth decay, with the perpetual outline of his penis pushing through his pants. He’s your best friend’s brother who hooks his thumbs in his jeans, leans back and stares at you at her dinner table. The guy that whispers perverted, crass things he wants to do to you in your ear when you walk by him in the hall. This is the guy you eventually sleep with, then later wonder why but do it again.

Where are these guys now?